PLUME: How difficult was it to do the stand-up circuit in the UK, Ireland, and Scotland?
NORTON: Well, I was very lucky, because for a few years prior to this, I’d kind of made a slight reputation for myself going around the art festivals - on that kind of comedy circuit, the bookers knew my name. They had no idea what I did, but they’d heard of me. So I got the gigs - whereas most people starting out in stand-up, it’s horrible. You go to all those open slots, and five minutes, and unpaid slots, and I was very lucky. I kind of went in at a middling level. So I was making money.
PLUME: Was the ability to live frugally that you learned in university working in your favor during this time?
NORTON: It didn’t seem like at the time. Those years between drama school and getting onto the stand-up circuit were pretty lean.
PLUME: But you weren’t sharing any flats with dead rats, though, right?
NORTON: No, I was living in a tower block with more cockroaches than any other building in Europe.
PLUME: Well, at least they were alive.
NORTON: Well, no… many of them weren’t. And they did find parts of seven different people in one apartment.
PLUME: That’s not good.
NORTON: No, it wasn’t good. The apartment … they did documentaries about it. And Sid Vicious had lived in it at one point.
PLUME: So it was famous, as well…
NORTON: Oh, absolutely.
PLUME: Who were your contemporaries at the time, when you were doing the circuit?
NORTON: Hmmm. Now, who might you have heard of? In British terms, I guess the ones that I was on the circuit with who’ve done well would be Alan Davies, Omid Djalili … he’s of English-Iranian heritage. He’s been in movies - he usually plays the evil Arab in things like The Mummy and stuff like that, or Bond movies… he’s in them. I don’t know who else I was on the circuit with who’s kind of broken out.
PLUME: Now, was Dermot (Morgan, from Father Ted) touring at that time?
NORTON: No, Dermot never toured in Britain. He’d done a little bit of stand-up in Ireland, but that wasn’t really what he ever did. He was always more of an actor and a writer. I mean, he would do after-dinners and things like that, but he rarely did just pure stand-up.
PLUME: How did he first get exposed to you?
NORTON: Oh, I tell you who it was… Ardal (O’Hanlon), Father Dougal - you know, the stupid priest? He was on the stand-up circuit, and he still is. I mean, he still tours on the stand-up circuit.
PLUME: I can’t even imagine what his act would be like.
NORTON: It’s really, really, really, really good. He’s excellent. He’s excellent …
PLUME: Now, was he the one who brought you to them, for the guest appearances on Father Ted?
NORTON: No, it was a dull tale of showbiz folk, and my agent represented the writers… I went and did the audition. We all got on, it was very good, but they just kind of thought, “Oh that was really funny, but now we’ll get the person who’s really going to play that part.” From just luck, they never did. Or, you know, they’d find people who kind of looked more right for it or who were a better age to do it, but I don’t know why. But anyway, in the end - I guess because it was a small part - they went “Oh, what the hell, we’ll give it to Graham.”
PLUME: I can’t imagine anyone else doing it.
NORTON: Well that’s very nice of you. I can’t imagine anyone doing it like that. I don’t think it was written like that … The producers came around for the final dress rehearsal and stuff, and they were just kind of going to me, “Could you tone it down a little? You’re a bit frightening.”
PLUME: That’s every American’s view of a peppy Irish Catholic. They brought you back, the character back, didn’t they?
NORTON: Yeah, and I did three episodes or four episodes - I can’t remember. So, yeah, I was lucky.
PLUME: It’s nice that those things are starting to filter into the States. How exactly did the talk show come about? Because I heard even that was a circuitous route, wasn’t it?
NORTON: Oh, yes. I was doing bits of radio and guesting on shows, on panel games and stuff like that, so I was getting a bit of a profile off the comedy circuit. Then a new channel started here, and I was hosting a quiz show on there - like a comedy panel game. When their chat show host went on holiday, they asked me to guest host, because I was one of the faces of the channel. I loved it, I just loved it. It was really frustrating to me - I’d found my dream job but it was somebody else’s. Anyway, I don’t quite know how this happened, but we ended up both being nominated for best comedy newcomer at the British Comedy Awards. He was nominated for his show, and I was nominated for his show. How eggy and awful is that? Then, to make matters so much worse - I won the prize. You know, we were sharing a table… it was not good. It was not good.
PLUME: How quickly did he lunge for you?
NORTON: In fairness to him - because we were both equally embarrassed because we’d been put in this awkward situation by whoever the hell put together these nominations …
PLUME: And he would never let anyone guest host again…
NORTON: I must say, it’s a rule in my book.
PLUME: But see, you could give a start to the next newcomer.
NORTON: No, they can find their own start. They can find some other fool to let them guest host.